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Can the overuse of pesticides cause air pollution?

Submitted by: Percy King


Expert response from Community Manager

Moderator for

Wednesday, 26/09/2018 12:49

Thank you for your question. We’ve compiled a variety of responses from a few of our experts discussing pesticides, the environment and GMOs which we hope will answer your question.

Andrew Kniss, associate professor of Weed Ecology & Management, Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Wyoming, addresses pesticides and the environment in a response to a similar question.

”Once applied, a vast majority of pesticides do not remain in the environment indefinitely. There are some notable exceptions that tend to persist for a very long time in the environment (such as DDT), but most pesticides currently used in agriculture degrade relatively rapidly. Many pesticides are degraded by microorganisms that live in the soil. These soil microorganisms basically use the pesticides as a food source, breaking the pesticide down into chemicals that no longer have pesticidal activity; that is, they are broken down into things that are often no longer “toxic poisons.” Glufosinate, for example, has a soil half life between 3 and 70 days. This means that under most circumstances, glufosinate will be almost completely degraded one year after application. There will certainly be exceptions to this, particularly in soils where microbial activity is already low (like sandy soils with low organic matter). But overall, most pesticides currently used in modern agriculture (and particularly those associated with GM crop production) break down relatively quickly and have far fewer non-target impacts than many pesticides used in the past.”

Read his full response here.

You might also be interested in the article “Do GMOs Lead to Increased Pesticide Use?” The article addresses the environmental impact associated with pesticide use on biotech crops.

“Overall, pesticide applications have decreased, largely due to the adoption of insect-resistant genetically modified crops.  In fact, over the last 20 years, GMOs have reduced pesticide spraying by 8.1 percent. As a result the environmental impact associated with pesticide use on biotech crops has decreased by more than 18 percent.

You can view the full FAQ here

A similar article, “Top 10 Consumer Questions About GMOs, Answered,” includes important details on how GMOs effectively improve air quality.

“GMOs can help improve air quality. GMOs can reduce agriculturally-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Agricultural economist Graham Brookes reports: “GMOs have helped farmers reduce their environmental footprint by allowing them to use fewer inputs and enabling a shift to reduced tillage. These practices have led to less time spent on a tractor, less fuel used and fewer emissions. As a result, GMOs have helped reduce CO2 emissions equivalent to removing 9.95 million cars from the road for one year. They have also led to nearly 1.3 billion pounds of less pesticides being used between 1996 and 2014.”

To learn more about GMOs and air quality, please view this info-sheet here.

Although GMOs can mean fewer pesticide applications in some crops, it is important to remember that pesticides play an important role in a healthy production system. In this article, Walter DeJong, a plant breeder and geneticist with Cornell University, discusses how both pesticides and GM crops can help make agricultural production more efficient, especially in developing countries.

If you have any more questions, please ask.